Clarence Williams, Los Angeles Times (eydfregy20120712115804/600 )
There were two questions on the table Wednesday night at the Hollywood Bowl's "Genius + Soul = Jazz" tribute to the late, protean, one-of-a-kind Ray Charles. How can you do justice to the bewildering collection of idioms that Charles fused? And how can you do this without Ray?
The Bowl found a way.
Co-producers Gregg Field and Phil Ramone fielded not one but three distinct musical outfits — a 10-piece jazz band loaded with heavy hitters, a small string orchestra backed with a chorus of young singers, and the entire Count Basie Orchestra — performing separately or mashed together.
PHOTOS: Highlights of the 2012 Hollywood Bowl
Sometimes the textures seemed overloaded, but more often things were balanced clearly.
There were eight headlining vocalists spanning jazz, pop, gospel, soul and country, four of whom (Patti Austin, Monica Mancini, Siedah Garrett and Lynne Fiddmont) formed an all-star Raelettes.
Host Tavis Smiley placed Charles in intelligent, passionate perspective at all times, especially when explaining how Charles' bestselling — and at the time, controversial — country-western albums of 1962 unified audiences at the height of the fight for civil rights.
All this luxury casting had the desired effect of firing up everyone to the degree where the listener was living in the moment and not too concerned about whether the performers were following the letter of the originals (in any case, BeBe Winans' gospel-tinged "How Long Has This Been Goin' On" came the closest to Charles' gritty style).
Dee Dee Bridgewater sang "Hallelujah, I Love Her (Him) So" and "Busted" with an earthy rasp in her voice; Austin rendered "Come Rain or Come Shine" with plenty of controlled soul. Martina McBride fit right into the mix somewhere between pop and country in straight-ahead renditions of tunes from Charles' country-western albums, while Kenny "Babyface" Edmonds did an adequate job with "Hurts to Be in Love" and "Let the Good Times Roll" as the Basie band wailed away full throttle behind him.
George Duke contributed galvanizing, funky and even countrified licks on keyboards, rocking out on an authentic Wurlitzer electric piano as Charles once did on "What'd I Say."
Saxophonists Dave Koz and Tom Scott were having uproarious fun dueling on "Them That Got" — indeed, I've never heard Koz in more inspired form than here — and tenor saxman Houston Person and trumpeters Terence Blanchard and Scotty Barnhart rounded out a formidable five-man front line.
And there was one unbilled surprise: Trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, invited that day to sit in on "Hey, Good Lookin'," responded with impressive blasting.